Book Reviews

Book Review: 40 Questions About Heaven and Hell (Alan Gomes)

The 40 Questions series by Kregel Academic is a very good series. Besides this volume, I own the volumes on Christians and Biblical Law (Schreiner), Interpreting the Bible (Plummer), and Elders and Deacons (Merkle). I think they’re fantastic, and most look great. This volume is really one that covers a topic most everyone has questions about. 

Table of Contents

  1. An Overview of the Afterlife
  2. The Intermediate State between Death and the Resurrection of the Body
  3. The Final Judgment
  4. The Eternal State
    1. The Eternal State for Believers 
    2. The Eternal State for Unbelievers (Hell)

Alan Gomes, associate professor of historical theology at Talbot School of Theology, combs through the differences of the “soul” and “spirit” (without showing us every hairy detail). He shows what the Bible says about heaven and hell, rather than letting his text (and our minds) be filled with what culture says. This volume has copious footnotes so you can study more in detail. This book is sobering. The Bible does talk seriously about where the unsaved will go, and Gomes goes where the text leads. He believes in an eternal, conscious hell and denies both universalism and annihilationism (as well as purgatory, though that’s not related in the same way). 

He is also careful to make definite statements when the Bible doesn’t do so. In chapter 11 (What Happens to Infants Who Die?), After looking at original sin, Gomes writes, “Infants are relatively innocent in comparison to adults, who are not only corrupt in nature but have also exercised their capacity to act out on that nature by committing specific acts of transgression” (106). Scripture doesn’t answer the question on how an infant, incapable of faith, can partake in Christ’s atoning work? But what we do know is that our merciful God, the Judge of all the earth, will do what is just and right (Gen 18:25). 

Continuing on, Gomes looks at if it is possible for us to communicate with the dead and if God gives people an opportunity to convert after they die. The Bible forbids communicating with the dead, and the one instance it gives us of someone talking to a dead person doesn’t end well (1 Sam 29:17-19). 

Another big concern is judgment day. If Christians are covered by the blood of Christ, why do we have to go through the final judgment? Judgement is based on works, but we are saved by grace. Our actions and deeds, though imperfect, help give proof of our faith in Christ. 

As you can see above, Part 4 (the eternal state) is divided into two sections (the eternal state for believers and unbelievers). 

Questions for believers are intriguing: What will our resurrection body be like (two chapters)? Will there be animals in the new creation (two chapters)? Probably, but also possibly not your resurrected Fido. Though, no matter what, we’ll be with God and won’t mind.

The difficult questions come when we get to the second section. What is hell like? Are its fires literal? How long does it last? Does an eternal punishment fit the crime? And from a loving God, on top of that? How are we supposed to be happy in the eternal state if we have loved ones in hell (two chapters)? 

I can’t answer all of these questions here, but Gomes does a good job answering these questions through exegesis and systematic and historical theology. He puts forth the argument for literal flames, but then gives more proofs for understanding them to be figurative. He writes that “Jesus selected the most horrific descriptions that earthly language would allow” (285). being holistic people, their physical pain will come from their emotional, mental, and psychological torment of being separated from God forever for their sins. They will do so eternally because they will never repent nor have a desire to do so. They will continually hate God and, thus, continually sin against him. 

Recommended?

Yes, this is a terrific book. Most chapters run between 8-10 pages. The chapters are easy to read, each ending with five reflection questions. This is a well-argued book with a good format. Buy it and read one chapter a day. Learn the biblical view of the afterlife and push out what culture and TV have taught you. This isn’t a perfect resource, but this should be the first book you buy on the topic. 

Lagniappe

  • Series: 40 Questions Series
  • Author: Alan W. Gomes
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Kregel Academic (November 27, 2018)
  • Read the first question

Buy it on Amazon or from Kregel Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Kregel Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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